Just like nine years ago, the Chicago Cubs find themselves on the brink of elimination after just two playoff games.
Cubs manager Lou Piniella has taken some heat for his moves in Game 1, a 3-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. And being paid the money he is, he can handle the criticism.
Most of the static stems from his not choosing to pinch-hit for Carlos Zambrano with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the sixth inning against Brandon Webb. That’s an easy target, especially after Piniella decided to remove Zambrano to start the seventh and bring in 24-year-old reliever Carlos Marmol, who was almost immediately touched for two runs.
But Piniella made the right move by leaving Big Z in to hit. Zambrano is one of the game’s best hitting pitchers and had doubled earlier in the game. Webb was sterling, and it appeared as if the game was going to be nip-and-tuck the entire way. Removing your ace after only five innings in a 1-1 game is insane, and had Piniella done that and watched Darrell Ward strike out, where would the blame be placed then? And had Zambrano’s line drive to Stephen Drew been a foot higher, the series might be tied 1-1 heading back to Chicago instead of the near-fatal 2-0. (A little help from the top five batters in the lineup, by the way, would be nice, too.)
So Cubs fans around the world are visibly shaking today, their season resting on the lanky, 24-year-old left arm of Rich Hill. For a franchise with a long history of letdowns, a sweep wouldn’t be surprising, especially coming at the hands of the team with the National League’s best record. So few people seem to recognize that, and maybe they will by 10 p.m. Saturday night.
It’s been a wild year for the Cubs, from a poor start that left them nine games under .500 and 8 ½ out of first place, to their ace and catching trading blows like Jermain Taylor and Kelly Pavlik to their manager kicking an umpire to spark one of the best records in baseball after June 3. Maybe there’s a little more drama left in the tank.